How to Access the Darknet in 2020: A Guide

If you’re looking to connect to the darknet and browse the deep web, this guide will tell you everything you need to know.

The prospect of using the darknet can be daunting for first timers: those who’ve binged on the Darknet Diaries podcast, for example, and now want to dip their toes in. This guide will walk you through the process of accessing the darknet (also known as the dark web or deep web) while preserving your opsec. After all, there’s no sense in purchasing contraband from a darknet market (DNM), or using the darknet to publish dissident material, if you’re inadvertently broadcasting your activities to the powers that be.

Gaining darknet access is one thing. Doing so safely and securely, while protecting your identity and leaving no breadcrumbs for others to follow, is another. With this darknet guide, you’ll gain a better understanding of the terrain, and learn what steps you need to take to get on the darknet and find what you’re looking for. Let’s begin.

Use a Darknet Web Browser

If you value your data privacy, chances are you don’t use Google Chrome. When it comes to browsing the darknet, the same rules apply – and using a darknet-friendly web browser is essential. No, really: darknet sites are inaccessible to the likes of Chrome, Mozilla and Safari.

Which brings us nicely to Tor, an open-source project specifically engineered to provide protection against tracking, surveillance and censorship. To this end, Tor (which stands for The Onion Router) blocks plugins such as Flash and QuickTime, which can be exploited to reveal your IP address, and obfuscates browsing activity by relaying your IP address through its vast, secure network.

Tor can be used to explore the everyday “surface web” as well as the deeper dermis where the darknet lives. Which explains why it’s the browser of choice for dissidents and whistleblowers throughout the world. Incidentally, darknet domains end in ‘.onion’ rather than ‘.com’ and it’s par for the course for sites to look like they were built 20 years ago. Strip away the JavaScript and you’re left with a simpler, more static web.  

You can download Tor for Windows, OS, Linux and Android using the link above. It’s completely free. Follow the steps to download and launch the browser and connect to the Tor Network, whereupon your connection will be encrypted and your activity anonymized. From here on, you can use Tor every time you want to visit the substratum known as the darknet (or use the regular internet, for that matter).

If your internet connection is censored or uses a proxy, you can still use Tor: just click ‘Configure’ when you see the Tor Network Settings window upon launch. You can also use Tor via the Brave browser: just click File > New Private Browsing Window with Tor. While you’re configuring your Tor browser settings, JavaScript poses a threat to the anonymity provided by Tor – which is why you should disable it before venturing onto the darknet. Here’s how.

Photo by Andre Benz on Unsplash

Entering the Darknet: Now What?

Having installed Tor browser, the wonders of the darknet are now at your fingertips. But remember, there’s some very nefarious material on the dark web. It’s good to have a Virgil on hand to lead you through the Underworld. Step forward dark.fail, a directory that lists URLs for active darknet marketplaces, forums and other interesting portals. One site on dark.fail’s longlist is Dread, a kind of Reddit for DNM enthusiasts. (You can also find the address for DNMs on Darknetlive.com.)

Just make sure that your .onion URLs are correct before hitting enter; unlike the surface web, there’s no SSL certificate verifying the legitimacy of websites on the darknet. You might also consider saving verified URLs in a note for later. 

Incidentally, you can use the darknet to visit clearnet sites, with the added benefit of heightened privacy, since you don’t have to reveal your IP address, and unrestricted access to geo-blocked platforms. If, for example, you want to read an article that is “not available in your territory,” opening the link in Tor should grant you access.  

Using Tor Over VPN

Although Tor will anonymize your browsing activities and help you evade common forms of online surveillance, using a VPN in conjunction with Tor adds an extra level of security. Using Tor over VPN means that your ISP will only be able to see the encrypted VPN traffic, and will be completely unaware that you are even using Tor. This setup is preferable to using Tor via a public network, but is best left to more experienced users. Remember: it is not illegal to use Tor, so don’t feel obliged to cover your tracks. 

While using Tor in and of itself is perfectly legal – our security services use them every day – there may be good reasons why you don’t want to broadcast that you are using the service. For extra peace of mind, use a VPN provider that does not retain logs. Keep both Tor and your VPN updated, and don’t use your normal email or social media accounts on websites when browsing on Tor.

To summarize then, to connect to the darknet you should:

  • Install Tor browser or open a Tor tab within Brave browser
  • Disable JavaScript ideally within your browser
  • Use a site such as dark.fail to find useful darknet sites
  • Note down the URL of darknet sites you wish to revisit for convenience
  • Consider using Tor in conjunction with a VPN

Follow these steps and your experience on the darknet should be a positive one. Predicting the future is a tricky business, but so long as governments continue to police the internet, darknet demand will persist. Enjoy your swim in the dark waters.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. Browse at your own risk. Neither Bidl nor the author is responsible, directly or indirectly, for any damage or loss caused or alleged to have been caused by or in connection with the use of or reliance on any content, goods or services mentioned in this article. Tl;dr: if you get rekt while browsing the darknet, it’s on you.